Defense against Islam – What I learned from my international office mates

Of all the things I talk about with my office mates, research, cultural traditions, English idioms, Communism, the one-child policy, and the proper pronunciation of the letter “v”, probably the most interesting topic of conversation is religion.

Besides the one other (American) Catholic office mate, the others are all undeclared, Buddhist variants, or atheists, but all sometimes go to the Christian events on campus for the free food.

We’ve had some pretty good discussions about God but by far the most intense conversations come from another Muslim student from Saudi Arabia who’s office is down the hallway from mine.  He’s very friendly and shares his Arabian “coffee” with all of us (it tastes more like tea).   He comes in periodically to say “hi”, comment on why I have no children, and usually starts a controversial discussion with a one liner, such as the following:

1.  “Seriously, why would God become man?  How can Jesus be God?”

or my new personal favorite:

2.  “Where in the Bible does it say you can’t have four wives?”

Usually when he poses these questions, I try to laugh it off and avoid confrontation.  At an academic institution I don’t really want to get into intense argument in the middle of the day.  And with my faith being so personal, it can be hard to just discuss it when you know that the other person has no interest in understanding your side (although this could be refuted since he is asking me the questions).  Mostly, I’m usually caught very off guard and have no idea how to respond most concisely.  And I honestly didn’t know much about Islam to understand how to talk to him in the first place.

In this last conversation that took place, I bucked up and held my own.  I explained why if the Islam, Christian, and Jewish faith were all exactly the same then why aren’t we all Jewish?.  I talked about the fullness of the faith After a couple of rebuttals he admitted he didn’t know anything about the Bible and actually ended the conversation himself!

So, most recent New Year’s goal?  Learn more about Islam apologetics.  When I became Catholic I heavily explored Jewish, protestant, baptist and even Mormon apologetics, but I only briefly looked into Islam.  Do you all know much about it?

I found a very interesting site that I’ve been pouring over and I found a couple of interesting books at the local Catholic bookstore that I’ll have to go back and buy next paycheck.  Given the current world tensions between these two religions, I’m guessing its a good thing for most people to be educated in.  Given my proximity to this certain zealous individual, I’d like to educate myself more appropriately for the sake of discussion :)

As a starting place, I learned that Islam started out as a heresy of Christian teaching and not an entire other religion.  This is particularly interesting when you consider the Crusades against Islam were to stop the spread of this heresy.  I know I need to learn a lot more about them, but I always find it interesting when the mistakes from the Crusades are thrown in the Churches face when people don’t know all the details (*not claiming the Church acting appropriately, I just think that with the explosion of such a dangerous heresy, maybe their reaction is more understandable.  Again, I need to learn more about this).

Most importantly, I think the quote from Galatians 1:6-9 sums it up quite well:

6I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

Maybe I’ll post more once I have more sources to pull from!

What I learn from my international office-mates

I wanted to start a little series about the interesting things I’ve learned from my international office-mates.  I would say “Chinese office-mates”, but we do have one Koren post-doc and who knows, we might get a few new students next year so I’ll keep it general.

For those of you that I’m already offending, please hear me out!  Anyone who is in grad school, especially in the sciences/engineering knows that domestic students are a minority.  Actually its more like an epidemic when you consider how few American students we’re actually educating.  At our school (and I think this is pretty typical of most research schools) international students make up about 70-75% of the student body.  In our research group, two of us are American and 6 are Chinese/Korean (including my boss) so we fit those statistics quite nicely.

Chinese is spoken in my office by default. For me, this should be a good thing since it should allow me to practice my Chinese, which I had almost all  but forgotten, but more often than not this semester, its just made me angry.  I’m not proud of this, but too many times this semester I’ve just been really upset about the lack of American students and upset at the fact that I can’t keep up with the conversation around me.  I think it hit again this semester since we got three new Chinese students.  And my boss is Chinese.  Seriously?  And somehow I am the one put in charge of organizing what few social events we have and making sure our group is cohesive.  Again, not that I was justified, but the best way I can explain it is that I felt like I was a driver in a car full of a bunch of people sitting in the back seat talking with each other.  Instead, I’d much rather enjoy driving the car if someone could sit up in the front seat and talk to me, you know?  I guess as pathetic as it sounds I’d really like to just have a friend that I can commiserate with in my research group.  One who doesn’t resort to another language for every conversation other than the ones that they need something from me.

Grad school is lonely enough already!

So now that I’m done wallowing (I wouldn’t be posting this if I was still there) I have realized that hey, as the senior student, if I make an effort at talking to people, they will talk back!  Eventually.  [I have to relearn this skill every semester apparently.]  I really do learn a lot from my international office-mates and I would even venture to say we’re friends now.  So my point is that I wanted to start writing these entries as a reminder of the good/funny/interesting/thought-provoking things that we talk about, so that next time one of these whining bouts start, I can re-read them as tell myself “See?  Look at what a better person you’re becoming for having the work situation that you do!”

So for this week, here’s a few recent things I’ve learned:

  • In Korea, Christmas is celebrated by going out to a club and dancing. Yeah, it sounds pretty much like a glorified/drunken Valentine’s Day where you get drunk and go on a blind date.  More commercialized than in America.  No family activities whatsoever.
  • You don’t have to be Christian to celebrate Christmas in Korea either.
  • One of the new students approached me the other day asking me where I got my wedding ring from.  We had a talk about it and I asked him about how he’s going to propose.  He said he’s going back over the winter break and doing it as soon as possible.  I said “Oh, so she’ll move here?” and he answered “I hope so.  My life here is miserable.”  What a good reminder that I’m not the only one making the best of this situation. Some people have it much worse.
  • Another office-mate married his wife and then 9 days later moved to America.  She was only able to join him the following year.

That’s all for now.  I’m sure I’ll have many, many more…